Despite big spending, Club for Growth-backed challengers fail to Republican incumbents

All four Republican challenger candidates backed by the Missouri Club For Growth lost Tuesday night, despite thousands of dollars in campaign support from the group funded in large part by St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield.

The organization backed challenges to incumbent Republicans who sided with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon during last summer’s fight over House Bill 253.

The four incumbent Republicans – Nate Walker, Kirksville; Jeff Messenger, Republic; Lyle Rowland, Cedarcreek; and Paul Fitzwater, Potosi – were part of the so-called “Flimsy 15” that voted to sustain Nixon’s veto last summer.

Despite $219,733 against Walker, he won with 58 percent of the vote. Rowland won with 57 percent of the vote, despite nearly $109,000 in spending against him. Fitzwater won with 79 percent of the vote after the Club for Growth spent $16,521 against him. And Messenger won with the closest margin, 51 percent, after the Club for Growth spent $148,000 against him.

In a statement Tuesday night, Missouri Club for Growth PAC Chairwoman Bev Randles said she was proud of the organization’s political efforts which she said have held lawmakers accountable and have moved them in the group’s direction.

“The organization is also proud of its efforts to hold accountable office holders who claim to be conservative, yet refuse to vote according to those principles. It is because of this organization’s willingness to hold elected officials accountable that this year the Missouri Legislature finally enacted long-delayed tax reform,” she said. “The Missouri Club for Growth PAC will continue to stand with everyday citizens in this state and work diligently to help true fiscal conservatives seek and retain office.”

Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri, characterized Tuesday’s results as a major blow to Sinquefield’s influence in electoral politics.

“The voters rejecting Rex’s radical agenda today were Republicans in Republican primaries. The only people happy with Sinquefield’s attempts to hijack our democracy are the politicians and consultants taking his cash,” he said.

Nine other “Flimsy 15” incumbents seeking reelection – Elaine Gannon, Donna Pfautsch, Lyndall Fraker, Sue Entlicher, Craig Redmon, Lyle Rowland, David Wood, Lynn Morris, Don Phillips – all went unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

While the Club for Growth has been unsuccessful in taking on incumbents, they did have a good showing in races where they were active for incumbents and in open seats. Randles pointed to primary victories in nine races: Senate District 2 with Dr. Bob Onder; Senate District 16 with Dan Brown; Senate District24 with Jay Ashcroft; House District 7 with Rep. Mike Lair; House District 14 with Kevin Corlew; House District 62 with Rep. Tom Hurst; House District 102 with Rep. Kurt Bahr; House District 148 with Rep. Holly Rehder; and House District 157 with Rep. Mike Moon.

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